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PortugalTravel Guide
"Portugal has a rich seafaring past, superb beach resorts, wistful towns and a landscape wreathed in olive groves, vineyards and wheat fields. Littered with UNESCO World Heritage sites and graced by one of Europe's most relaxed and attractive capitals, it also remains refreshingly affordable.

Savouring life slowly is a Portuguese passion, and much of the best is humble - traditional folk festivals; simple, honest food drowning in olive oil; music that pulls at the heart strings, recalling past love and glories; and markets overflowing with fish, fruit and flowers".
Festivals Place to Visit Fast Facts
ANO NOVO (New Year's Day) January 1
The New Year starts with special services in the churches. Friends and relatives visit from house to house, greeting one another with "Boas Festas" and exchanging good wishes and congratulations. In northern Portugal children go about the neighborhood singing old songs called janeiras which are thought to bring luck in the coming year. In return for their greetings the boys and girls receive gifts of food and coins. In some places the village band goes through the streets playing stirring airs. Whenever the musicians happen to pass the house of one of their members they stop and play a special selection.

DIA DE REIS (Day of the Kings) January 6
"All over the country peasants perform Epiphany plays in honor of the Magi. Bands of carolers go about, singing greetings and begging gifts, for they, like the Three Holy Kings, are weary and come from afar.

In some places family groups visit one another from house to house. The guests stand at the door and beg admittance, so they can sing to the Christ Child. After receiving a hearty welcome and singing special carols in honor of the Infant Jesus, the guests are entertained with wines and sweets.

Gifts are exchanged on Dia de Reis and special entertainment is provided for children. Mothers give them a party and a ringshaped cake called bolo-rei. Baked inside the cake are all sorts of little amulets and fortune-telling trinkets, as well as a single dried broad bean. The child finding the bean in his portion is crowned king of the party and promises to ""make the cake"" for his playmates the following year.

When adults hold Dia de Reis parties, in some regions, the person finding the bean is expected to pay for next year's cake."

SAO VICENTE (Saint Vicente) January 22
"Saint Vicente, murdered by Saracens of Algarve in 1173, is Lisbon's patron saint. Tradition says two ravens miraculously guided a boat, carrying the saint's coffin, up the river Tagus to the harbor of Lisbon. The inhabitants were so grateful to both winged pilots and magic bark for returning their saint that they depicted the event in Lisbon's coat of arms.

Saint Vicente's Day is celebrated in weather omens and folk traditions, no less than in processions and prayers. Farmers feel that a good way to predict harvests in the coming season is to light a resin torch, carry it to a high hill and then note what happens: if the flame is extinguished in the wind, crops will be abundant and an extra helper needed; if, on the contrary, the torch burns in spite of the wind, the season will be bad and a farm hand must go."

NOSSA SENHORA DE FATIMA (Our Lady of Fatima),
"in Fatima, province of Estremadura May 13 and October 13

The Sanctuary of Fatima, at Cova da Iria, in a brief time has become one of the world's greatest pilgrimage centers. Thousands of pilgrims--often more than a hundred thousand at one time throng this Portuguese Lourdes on the thirteenth of May and October, to pray, seek spiritual grace, or miraculous cure at Our Lady of Fatima's shrine.

Until May 13, 1917, Fatima consisted of a handful of peasant huts, and the Cova da Iria, now dominated by the modern basilica and the vast open space before it, was nothing but a grassy slope. Here three young shepherds, Lucia de Jesus and Jacinta and Francisco Mato tended their sheep. On that fateful thirteenth of May, the sky suddenly darkened above the children at noon. Thinking a storm threatened, the three shepherds prepared to drive the animals back to their village of Almoster.

As the children started to leave, a beautiful lady clothed in white appeared to them from the branches of a holm-oak. She told the frightened children to return to the same spot on the thirteenth of each month, until October, and to "say the Rosary every day to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war."

CARNAVAL (Carnival)
"The Sunday, Monday and Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday

The last three days before Ash Wednesday culminate the pre-Lenten festivities, which begin several weeks earlier. Throughout the country masked balls, parties, confetti battles and dances are held at this season.

Even as recently as a little over a century ago the Lisbon carnival was characterized as a time of license, with obscene jokes, coarse horseplay, and battles with eggs, oranges, flour and water predominating. Today public festivities in Lisbon are restricted for the most part, to processions of gay flower-decked cars, music, an parades of revelers in fancy costume.

In rural areas Carnival continues to be celebrated with much of its old time gaiety and abandon. Battles of flowers, mummers and musicians, the burial in effigy of King Carnival, old folk plays and dramas are features of the festivities."

DOMINGO DE RAMOS (Palm Sunday)
"The Sunday preceding Easter

In northern Portugal people take to church ramos, or branches bent into half loops and decorated with spring flowers. The priest blesses the ramos, which later are carried in procession. These hoops are carefully preserved in homes and burned during storms, as a protection against thunder and lightning."

SEMANA SANTA (Holy Week)
"The week preceding Easter

During Holy Week, sometimes throughout Lent, there are exhibits in the churches and processions through the streets of scenes from the Passion of Jesus.

The church of Senhor dos Passos, Our Lord of the Way of the Cross, in the city of Guimardes, shows a different Passion tableau each day of Holy Week ""to remind people of the sufferings of Our Lord.""

Two of the most famous Passion processions are in the city of Covilha on the slope of the Serra de Estrela, and in the town of Vila do Conde. In many places these processions are attended by bands of anjinhos, children dressed as little angels, with crowns on their heads and fluffy eiderdown wings attached to their shoulders. The figures of Jesus, which have lashes, real hair, and crystal tears, are sumptuously clad in robes of purple velvet. The clergy's vestments and all processional properties are violet in color, and frequently the worshipers lined up to watch the procession, toss violets to their suffering Lord."

PASCOA (Easter)
"Many churches are decorated with white flowers. Old and young, rich and poor attend the Easter Masses which are characterized by magnificent Resurrection music. After the services families eat a holiday meal and visit among friends and neighbors.

Folar is a popular Easter cake in many places. This is made of sweet dough baked in a round flat shape and decorated on top with hard-boiled eggs. People exchange presents of little colored paper cornucopias filled with sugar covered almonds."

QUINTA-FEIRA DA ESPIGA (Ear of Wheat Thursday or Ascension Day)
"The fortieth day after Easter

On this day peasants make bouquets of olive branches and wheat sheaves, poppies and daisies. The olive and wheat symbolize wishes for abundant harvest; the poppy stands for peace, the daisy for money. A bit of wheat is kept in the house as a sign of prosperity throughout the coating year. People often gather medicinal plants and herbs on this day, preparing them later for home remedies or magic spells."

PENTECOSTES (Pentecost, Whitsun) The fiftieth day after Easter
"The anniversary of the descent of the Holy Ghost on the Disciples is celebrated with special church services. In some towns of the Azores, local Holy Ghost societies issue free food tickets to the poor. Long elaborately decorated tables, laden with all kinds of bread, meat, and other tempting foods, are set up in the main streets. Food and drink are distributed to the community poor while bands play and villagers who have contributed to the feast act as hosts and hostesses to their less fortunate neighbors.

The distribution of food usually continues until Corpus Christi, eleven days after Pentecost."

DIA DE CORPO DE DEUS (Corpus Christi), in Ponta Delgada,
"on the island of San Miguel, the Azores The Thursday following Trinity Sunday

Since medieval days Corpus Christi, the feast that honors the Eucharist, has been one of the most sumptuous of all religious observances both on the Portuguese mainland and in the Azores.

In the city of Ponta Delgada, on San Miguel, on Corpus Christi Sunday the inhabitants make a magnificent flower petal carpet--almost three quarters of a mile in length--over which the procession passes. High-ranking clergy wearing gorgeous vestments and walking under an embroidered canopy, are accompanied by acolytes who swing censers and hold tall white candles. Hundreds of red-robed priests follow, then a charming group of first communicants--little boys in dark suits and scarlet capes and little girls in white frocks and filmy veils.

The climax of the ceremony comes when the bishop, in vestments woven with gold and silver thread, slowly raises the silver monstrance and exposes the Blessed Sacrament, symbol of the Body of Christ. Worshipers sink to their knees. As if to enhance the solemnity of the moment, the setting sun often drenches the bowed heads of the vast throng with warm glowing light. A spectacular backdrop of purple, rose, and gold suddenly unfurls in the sky as the chanting of priests and the devout responses of the people fill the evening with somber melody."

SANTO ANTONIO (Saint Anthony) June 13
"One of the country's most popular saints is Saint Anthony of Padua, who was born in 1195 in the Alfama, Lisbon's oldest and most crowded quarter, where the small church of Santo Antonio da Se now stands. When the church was destroyed by the earthquake of 1755, even the boys and girls of the Alfama began collecting pennies for its reconstruction. The children set up little street altars which they decorated with white paper lace cut-outs, flowers, tapers, and gaudy pictures of their saint. The youngsters begged ""a tittle penny for Santo Antonio"" from all who passed. The ""little pennies"" and the children's example must have prompted many substantial gifts, because the present building, completed in 1812, was paid for by these alms.

The custom of begging for Santo Antonio still continues in the twentieth century. Throughout the month of June in Lisbon, children prepare altars in the saint's honor. Boxes and tables are covered with white paper ""altar cloths"" and decorated with candles, images and pictures depicting the life and works of the saint. ""Little pennies"" are still demanded, but nowadays for a children's feast."

VESPERA DE SAO JOAO (Saint John's Eve) June 23
"On the night dedicated to Sao Joao Baptista many traditional rites connected with fire, water, and love are observed. In some places boys and girls strip a pine tree, decorate it with flowers and greens, and ceremoniously carry it into the village. There the facho, as the tree is called, is set up in the center of a great bonfire of brush and pine logs. When the fire is lighted young people dance about it, singing ancient songs dedicated to Sao Joao. Hand in hand the couples leap over the flames.

Mothers often hold children over the embers, as the saint's fires are thought to possess curative virtue. Cattle and flocks are driven through the ashes so the animals will prosper throughout the coming year. Even the dead embers are gathered and carefully preserved, for they are thought to be efficacious against storm and evil influences."

DIA DO NATAL or DIA DA FAMILIA (Christmas, or Day of the Family) December 25
"Christmas to the Portuguese is primarily a family festival, characterized by reunions of as many relatives as can be gathered together. In many parts of the country, the cepo do Natal, or Christmas log (traditionally of oak), is burned on the hearth while the family feasts and drinks late into the day. The charred remains of the log are gathered up and carefully preserved. They are burned, later on, to keep the house from harm, when endangered by thunder or sudden storm.

In some primitive districts people share the consoada, or Christmas repast, with the spirits of the dead, who are thought to return to their former homes at this season. Sometimes crumbs from the feast are sprinkled over the hearth, or food is left on the table so the hungry ghosts may have a part in the family's cheer.

The night before Christmas groups of carolers go through the streets singing hymns about Jesus and his birth in Bethlehem's humble manger."

VESPERA DE ANO NOVO (New Year's Eve) December 31
"Throughout the country the devout attend religious services in the churches. At mldnight the bells ring and people hasten to the village squares to speed the Old Year and welcome the New with fireworks, blaring trumpets, and beating drums. In certain localities everyone goes to the rooftops at midnight, to recite appropriate improvised verses and ""blow away"" the dying year through megaphones. An almost universally observed custom is to pick and eat twelve grapes from a bunch of grapes, just as the bells strike twelve. This act is said to ensure twelve happy months in the coming year.

In some places little groups of masked children go about from house to house singing janeiras, or ancient New Year songs. The janeireiros, or singers, address their words to the owners of the house, praising them when generous, and insulting them when stingy with their traditional presents of wine, apples, sausages or nuts."